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In a case that will have ramifications for independent artists, especially photographers, a U.S. District Court judge has ruled in favor of a photographer who claimed that AFP and the Washington Post infringed his copyright by distributing images that he had uploaded to Twitter.

The case arose in 2010 after photographer Daniel Morel posted pictures that he had taken in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. The case will be going forward after judge Alison Nathan found in summary judgment for Morel, stating that AFP and the Post had infringed Morel’s copyright.

Morel alleged that¬† AFP had violated the Copyright Act of 1976, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Lanham Act. Morel also brought bought Getty Images, which has a worldwide distribution deal with AFP,¬† into the site as well as other media organizations, including The Washington Post, all of which also used Morel’s images without approval.

Summary judgment often stops a law suit in its tracks but determining the liability of one of the parties early in the judicial process. In this case the trial will continue because Judge Nathan did not rule on Getty’s liability nor did she rule on Morel’s claim that the infringement was willful.

Here is what she did say:

“The Twitter [terms of service] provide that users retain their rights to the content they post – with the exception of the license granted to Twitter and its partners – rebutting AFP’s claim that Twitter intended to confer a license on it to sell Morel’s photographs.”

The judge also ruled that Morel will not be able to collect damages for each use of each photograph. Rather, he will be eligible to collect statutory damages for each image claimed (there are thirteen).
Here’s why the case is important: It settles the issue that individuals and other parties who post images and other intellectual property to Twitter do not lose their ownership of the content by posting it. The ruling, of course, could be appealed to a higher court, but that is for now the way it stands.
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